Taking the Plunge: Kate Barton
Written by Stella Nicholls
Images provided by Kate Barton
The natural motion of swimming, limbs repetitively gliding through the water, must be a calming experience for an avid swimmer. Add some very cold water to the mix, and, it would seem, the benefits reach a new level.
We recently caught up with Kate Barton, the first woman to be appointed managing partner at Boyce Hatton Solicitors and cold-water swim enthusiast. Kate didn’t begin our conversation chatting about her love of cold water, we first delved into the role that she’d taken on during one of the most challenging years in recent history. As our conversation progressed, however, I could see the similarities between Kate taking the plunge into her new role and in her passion for swimming in the chilly depths. Both require dedication, tenacity and a certain feisty courage to see things through.
Kate, originally from Bristol, studied History and Spanish at Anglia. After working for a few years, she decided to do a post-graduate legal qualification before completing a training contract at a firm in Bristol. Kate said, ‘I think a lot of lawyers train with a firm, stay for a year and then it’s time to spread the wings a bit’.
Kate took the opportunity to not only find another firm but to relocate too. She loves talking and connecting with people and was delighted to join the family team at Boyce Hatton in 2005. She had made a conscious decision to move to a slightly smaller firm with a more ’boutiquey’ feel and where there would be more chance to develop. She wasn’t disappointed.
Kate took on the role of Managing Partner on the 1st May 2020, six weeks into the pandemic. She had been involved in the management team for several years, when during 2019 the outgoing Managing Partner announced his intention to retire, and it was agreed that she would take over. She said, ‘I had about a year knowing that the role was coming, but obviously it was pre-COVID which no one knew anything about at that stage!’
In January 2020 things started to change when the world we were all familiar with slowly began to be impacted by the pandemic. As one of the youngest Managing Partners, she had wanted to establish herself in the role and had some dynamic ideas in mind, such as growing the Totnes office. She said, ‘I did have a few ideas for the year anyway, I wanted to introduce moving towards going paper light, more remote working as I’d always done a bit of working from home and I wanted to be a bit more flexible about that. Then we got to January and February and there were all those whispers about what was going on, so we had some big decisions to make then’.
Although she officially took over on the 1st of May, the reality was that she’d stepped up to be part of those discussions from March onwards. Kate said, ‘It was a huge challenge because we were facing having to make all sorts of decisions in a constantly shifting framework’.
Like most of the country, Kate and the team were led by the almost daily pandemic announcements being put out by the government at that time. ‘None of us were familiar with the furlough scheme!’ Kate exclaimed. ‘Even as a bunch of lawyers we were all busy looking it up and looking at the criteria and what to do. Things changed so rapidly; we had an ongoing joke about having a whiteboard. As we developed a plan, we could rub it out as things changed and new announcements were made, and then develop a new plan’. Kate and the team were navigating not only through unchartered territory but also unchartered legislation too.
The firm eventually managed to get everyone, besides a core team, working from home a week before the official lockdown was announced.
Kate said, ‘Becoming Managing Partner and dealing with such a crisis actually helped, really. Being forced to make decisions very quickly, helped distinguish the fact that I was leading the operation. It made a clear distinction between me and the outgoing managing partner, who, although very supportive, had stepped back, as he was leaving’.
Kate has continued to take the role in her stride. As a person who values kindness and fairness, helping people, whether employees or clients, is paramount to her. She said, ‘It’s true that we are all in different boats, but we are in the same storm. We need to be there for each other and keep going, not giving up’.
Kate can often be seen swimming in her spare moments, which is a space where she can relax. She said, ‘I love it because it focuses the mind. You can’t really think about anything else, it is so, so cold. It’s literally breath-taking!’
She is looking forward to coming out of lockdown and putting some of her original plans into action. She will also be embracing the fact that the networking group, Women in Torbay and Totnes, will be able to get together again. They are a friendly welcoming bunch who meet to engage in an array of activities from cocktail making to different talks on various topics. ‘We even had a carol singing gathering and a Rock Choir event’ she added. Like all of us, Kate is contemplating a ‘new usual’ with cautious optimism.